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was great confusion and difficulty at the polls in Philadelphia, and that, since, the elections had been conducted calmly. We have been told, on this floor, that voters had been imported into the city and county, from an adjoining State, and that, by this means, the numbers bave been enormously swelled : yet the gentleman from Philadelphia tells us, the number of votes taken is greater since the registry law was introduced, than before, so that this law has not kept the fraudulent voters away. This act gives a greater opportunity to fraudulent voters to come in, than they had before. Where there is an upright judge and inspector, there is no fraud; it is only where the judges and inspectors are corrupt that there is danger of fraudulent votes. He would state a fact which occured within his own knowledge. An inspector handed out at the window the names of six voters who had a right to vote, but had not polled ; and the person to whom the list was handed, having read the names, brought up six persons to vote. This gave an opportunity for fraud. It afforded the means to the judge to procure six persons to represent the six voters who were absent. This particular case he was acquainted with. As the party to which the gentleman belongs has the possession of fourteen wards, and can do as it pleases, it has the means of knowing through its officers at the polls who have voted, and who have not, and to whom to give the names. It enables the city of Philadelphia to poll every vote. The parties can send out their spies early in the day, and if the voters are sick, others can be brought up to supply their place. Still it was insisted that there was nothing fraudulent under the registry law. But the law was not a good one. He had himself seen, in his own district, a person born on the spot, an honest voter, who was either ignorant of the law or had neglected to comply with its provisions, but supposed that he might come to the polls as an American citizen: he saw this man come, and offer his vote, which was refused, because his name was not on the register. A gentleman had asked, who would dare to deny a voter the exercise of his right? The judges and inspectors did, on this occasion, and appealed to the law for their justification, alleging that the register was the only evidence to which they could look. It was his opinion that no man's vote should be made to depend on the registry. The gentleman from Beaver said, the friends of an individual might apply to have his name on the register : but the law said that the individual must apply in person. The inspectors came into a particular district, and added forty names to the list, and not a man came forward under the law to comply. This, and the change of the six votes named before, shew the disgusting practices which prevailed under the law. These are some of the secret frauds : and he called on gentlemen to change a system which makes votes dependent on the acts of assessors. The judges of elections are judges of competency. The registry laws are inapplicable, and have failed, and the system by which voters were told they must bring their evidence, is no longer in force. They must now take up their tax receipts-a system wrong in itself, and not applicable. There is no security for the rights of any citizen. Every man knows, at the time he gives his vote, that it influences others beside himself : and every one feels that a violation of his right is a stab on the interest of all. For these reasons it was his purpose to go against special laws, which operate unequally and unjustly. All laws should operate equally, and every
member should look well to action. Special acts are always injurious, and operate on one to the injury of another. We are told this law is necessary, and we are also told of scenes of blood which have taken place at Philadelphia. These outrages have no relation to the right of suffrage, but have grown out of the political excitements of the period, excitements which have passed away. Every one knows that these excitements existed, and that they did pass away, and that the quiet of the elections had been restored before the registry act was passed. There had been no confusion, not a quarrel, quietness and peace had been restored. It was not, therefore, to remedy this evil that the law was enacted, for the evil had passed away. Why has there not been any confusion at the polls ? It has been because there were too many crowded together at one place, in consequence of the insufficient number of polls. The people have applied to the Legislature to divide the county into smaller districts. Too many have been obliged to assemble at one place. Six or seven hundred persons going to one window must create confusion. The registry act did not remedy this evil, and the people asked that the districts should be divided. Did the Legislature do it? No. They were not so eager to prevent confusion, as they were to pass the registry act, One member, it appears, rose and asked leave to bring in a bill; after that, he could find no trace of it, until the gentleman from Northampton found it attached to a bill concerning turnpike roads, with a hundred other subjects. The member himself, who brought it in, did not know it had passed. He would relate a circumstance which took place when he (Mr. B.)was here. He saw a bill concerning election districts brought from the Senate, four or five feet long. His colleague asked him if there was any thing in it of interest. He replied that he saw nothing, but that Mr. Peltz knew all about it. There was great confusion, six months afterwards, and the Moyamensing officers all found themselves legislated out of office, by this bill to answer some political purpose, and a new set of officers appointed in their room. He would state what further was done. Not only was a new qualification required, judges of eleetions were appointed. The people were deprived of their rights, and judges were legislated in for two years, instead of one year. Thus this system leaves it in the power of the Legislature to legislate a particular party into office. Such is the privilege it grants ; and if this is calculated for one portion, it is calculated for every part of the State. He would not, by his vote, give a sanction to the idea that the people of the city and county of Philadelphia were worse than any of the people of other parts of the State. It had been been said that the city was teaming with vagrants. He had resided in the city; and he believed there was as much private and public virtue in the county and city of Philadelphia, as in any other quarter of the Globe. Go to a distance, and say any where that you came from Philadelphia, and the reply is—"ah, you have a beautiful city, peaceable and orderly, the city of brotherly love: there is no danger there of going abroad, you can pass through the lanes and alleys with perfect safety". Thus is Philadelphia spoken of every where in terms of high and just eulogy. And, after hearing this testimony to her merits among strangers, you must come back to Pennsylvania, to her Halls of legislation, to hear her vilified, to find, on the records of her history, epithets calculated to degrade her in the eyes of posterity. He would not lend his vote to add to the effect of such a course of
disparagement. If the gentleman from Philadelphia says, our native city deserves to be thus characterized
Mr Scott: I did not say so. In the first place, Philadelphia is not my native city: and, in the next place, I did not say she deserved to be thus characterized. I said there had been scenes there of disorder and blood, and I left it to the committee to decide on the truth of my statements.
Mr. Brown resumed: The gentleman said, that there were 600 or 700 at a window, giving in their voies. It is a fact, that there have been 800 at a window. He did not mean to say, that the gentleman had so characterized the city of Philadelphia, but it was a fair inference from his statement, that the registry act had prevented these disorders. He was told by his colleague, at his side, (Mr. M'Cahen) that the violence and bloodshed which took place, was after the polls had closed. Unless, by some legislation, you allow the people to enjoy their rights, the people will be jealous and restless, and excitements, which lead to violence, must be feared. Against bad laws the people rose, and would rise. There was a single fact, within his own knowledge, which speaks loudly for the purity of the ballot system. A gentleman told him he wished to vote in the city and county, and could not get his vote received ; and, that he went to Doylestown, where he was permited to vote. He had mixed familiarly with ihe people, and been anxious to get voters, but he would spurn any mode which was calculated to impair the value, or sully the purity of the elective franchise. He had been at ward and committee meetings, and had never heard there any proposition of the kind, nor had he ever known any. Charges of the kind have been gotten up for political effect, but where one asserts them, there are always found others to refute them.In the township where he resided, there were a hundred votes more polled last election, than at any election before, in consequence of the natural increase of voters. The charge of importing votes rests altogether on newspaper authority. He would be as eager to check such a practice, if it existed, as any one. The gentleman from Northampton (Mr. PORTER) said, that the Bill of Rights guarantees equality in the election laws, but it has not done so in practice. Certainly, there ought to be no greater restrictions on the electors in one place than another. He hoped the amendment would be properly arranged, so as to have a place in the article to which it was most appropriate.
Mr. BIDDLE, of Philadelphia, said, he had listened with no common pain to the remarks, which his friend from the county, had addressed to the committee. He was proud to say, that there was not one of the delegates from the city of Philadelphia, who had not spoken of the county on terms of respect. He had the highest respect for the county. It is easy (said Mr. B.) to make charges.
Mr. BROWN: I made no charges. I thought I had praised the city.I only remarked on a single case of fraud. I thought my language was that of eulogy.
Mr. BIDDLE: God protect the city from such eulogy! It was easy to make charges, and, in proportion as gentlemen felt themselves able to throw off the restraints of propriety, will it be the more easy. If the gen. tleman knew of such frauds, why did he keep the knowledge a secret in his own heart? Why did he take no step to vindicate the majesty of the law? Was this the course due to justice from a high minded and hono
rable man, and he knew the gentleman from the county to be high minded and honorable ? He knew it had been said that the polls were converted, on some occasions, into scenes of violence.
If the gentleman had listened to the eloquent remarks of my colleague he would have known that the remark which fell from him was that there was a contest for the possession of the polls, which commenced with vio. lence, went on to outrage, and was consummated in blood. The gentleman had not only charged certain officers with grave offences, but had added that they belonged to the party to which his colleague and himself belonged. He had hoped that the bitterness of party strife would not have been invoked here. If any danger to our institutions can be apprehended, it is from these invocations of party strife. Instead of interchanging rebukes, each going one step beyond the other, he had hoped to have heard no more of the language of imputation. He would not hurl back these imputations on the party of the gentleman. The gentleman had said, that we were told the number of votes had increased since the passage of the registry act, and then came to the conclusion, that there must be fraudulent votes. The language of his colleague was, that they had not diminished. Could not the gentleman from the county find any other cause for this, than a fraudulent one ? Might it not rather be ascribed to the fact, that quiet and order were restored, so that the aged and infirm, who had previously been prevented from appearing at the polls, were able to vote, and that thus the aggregate number of votes was increased? The gentleman had further sai that the registry law did not answer the purposes for which it had been passed, that it was inapplicable, and had totally failed; and, look at the reasoning by which the gentleman sustains this allegation. What is that reasoning? Because, in the first line, the Legislature had omited the word “general”, and made the law applicable only to “special elections”. So that a mere casus omissus—the result of accident, or oversight-was to be addressed, as a grave argument, to a body assembled here to deliberate on the fundamental law of the land, in favor of prohibiting future Legislatures from providing guards against the evils incidental to the exercise of the right of suffrage in large cities. To say the least, the argument of the gentleman from the county was not very conclusive. The gentleman had asserted, that the county of Philadelphia was not worse than other counties. No, neither the city nor the county were any worse than others. The case of the facility with which shoals could be transfered from New York and New Jersey, to our shores, was put with much force by his colleague (Mr. Scott). And while the eulogy on Philadelphia on her citizens was true, it was not less true that they was peculiarly liable to have their quiet and good order and harmony broken up, and converted into discord, and tumult
, and violence, by these inundations of lawless and dangerons hosts from other States. The cases cited by the gentleman from the county were not very applicable. His illustration of the gentleman, who had not been permited to vote in Philadelphia, and who had gone to Berks and voted, proved nothing more than that Philadelphia was right, and Bucks was wrong. He would say, in conclusion, and every gentleman who had had an opportunity of witnessing, would bear testimony to the fact, that peace, order, and harmony, had prevailed since the operation of the registry law, while, before its adoption, the elections were the scenes of violence, tumult and outraged law.
Mr. HOPKINSON, of Philadelphia, did not rise to take any part in the debate which had for some time past occupied the time of the committee. The discussion had wandered immeasurably from the question. The question before the committee was not whether the registry law was good or evil ; whether it ought, or ought not to be repealed; or whether it should be extended or not. He did not rise to say any thing about that. His object was to draw the attention of the committee to an objection to the amendment which had occured to him, and on which, if he had heard any other gentleman make a remark, he would not have said a single word. It must strike every one with admiration, as a proof of the sagacity of the Convention that framed the present Constitution, that after a discussion of six or seven weeks, we have not been able to detect a single error in their work. It is of the highest importance that the language used should be as precise and as accurate as language will admit of. We are not engaged in legislation on which the error of to-day may be corrected to-morrow. He trusted that, as some gentleman had said, we were making a Constitution to endure for a hundred years ; and we ought to be cautious that into such an instrument, we admit nothing which is vague or uncertain. His objection to the amendment was its vagueness and uncertainty. (Here Mr, H. read the amendment.) Every gentleman can see that the effective, the all important word in this amendment is “restriction". What is meant? Restriction on the right of voting or locality? What, will the people, who are to live under this Constitution, understand by the word ' For forty-seven years there has been no difficulty.
He would again ask what was the meaning of the word “restriction”'! Was it meant to be applied to suffrage to the mode and manner of taking a vote, or to locality ? He had no desire to create difficulties, or to allude to what had taken place on this floor. Various opinions had been given in reference to this word, and one gentleman had said that so far from the amendment making a restriction, it was creating an extension. Here, then, are given two meanings 10 a word which we are about to insert in the Constitution. No two members who had spoken on the subject understood the amendment alike, and that, he thought, was a sufficient objection to it, and a reason why it should be rejected.
Mr. MERRILL, of Union, remarked, that he had been much amused and instructed by the observations of gentlemen on various subjects, but which, however, had no connexion with the question immediately under consideration. He really could not perceive the necessity of considering whether certain laws, which had been passed by our Legislature, were Constitutional, or not. No object could be obtained by it, and the Convention possessed no power to decide that question. It was, then, a mere waste of time. He supposed that the next question would be who are the best democrats in the State ? Now, for his part, he cared so little about the matter, that he was willing to admit that the county of Philadel. phia, or the county of Northampton, or any other were county, the best democrats He had no desire to enter into a controversy on that ques. tion, for it was immaterial to him which way it might be decided. We never should get through with our labors, in any reasonable time, if the Convention went into an investigation of the character of the numerous laws which had been passed by our Legislature. We ought now to decide the pending, question without further delay. He would not say a word